The Miami HEAT are 23-13, No. 4 in the Eastern Conference and 1.5 games back of first place. They are 3-0 in the past week, with wins over Orlando, Washington and Houston and one postponed game with San Antonio. Here’s what we’ve been noting and noticing.
SUPER NINTENDO CHALMERS
The most under-appreciated player during Miami’s run of four-straight NBA Finals appearances was Chris Bosh. But since then Bosh has received plenty of flowers, some of them of the revisionist variety, and he has since entered the Hall of Fame. Mario Chalmers, on the other hand, was under-appreciated at the time and still is today, too often forgotten about as an integral piece of that run.
Chalmers never got a ton of press during those years, and somehow he became more well known for taking the brunt of his teammates’ ire when things weren’t going well on the court. That narrative never cast Chalmers in a fair light, and took positive attention away from a player who was often everything you could possibly ask for next to three big-name stars.
From a 2022 perspective, knowing everything we’ve learned about the game in the past decade, think about the type of player who would have been the perfect fit on those teams. You want someone who can shoot, no doubt. You want defense, preferably with a defender who has the length to help create turnovers in a defensive system that thrived on creating turnovers. And from the point guard spot you want someone who can run offense and give you a secondary pick-and-roll while not needing touches that would take away from what LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were trying to do. Above all, you want someone who will show up in big games and add value during a deep postseason run.
That was Chalmers. The HEAT had that guy, all along. Yes, his passing could sometimes be an adventure and eventually role player additions like Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen would steal some of the shine available for those not bound for All-Star Weekend, but Chalmers was always there, filling the exact role the team needed with shooting and defense.
Everyone will have their own memories, but when we think about Chalmers two shots come to mind. The first might be obvious. In Game 7 of the 2013 Finals against the Spurs, Chalmers – after scoring 20 points on 11 shots in a fight-to-survive Game 6 – comes right down the middle of the floor with five seconds on the clock after a Manu Ginobili layup and hits a 30-foot three to give Miami a lead they would never relinquish.
The second was in a loss. Game 2 of the 2011 Finals against the Mavericks. The HEAT have blown their 15 points lead in the fourth quarter with seven minutes to go and Miami is down three after a Dirk Nowitzki triple. So, side out-of-bounds with James holding the ball, Chalmers cuts to the far corner, receives a perfect cross-court pass and drains a game-tying three right in front of Dallas’ bench. Nowitzki comes back down and wins it with a driving layup and all anyone remembers is the blown lead, but that always felt like Chalmers’ hero moment that was taken away from him. If the HEAT win that game, they go up 2-0 headed to Dallas for three games and the entire series might be different – not to mention that was the year Chalmers was playing well down the stretch of the regular season as a starter before missing six-straight games and losing that spot to Mike Bibby.
While he still holds the franchise record for threes in a game with 10, in a three-way tie with Brian Shaw and Duncan Robinson, Chalmers should be remembered for far more than that. We don’t know what the next week or so holds for him as far as playing time or a second contract after his current 10-day expires, but good to see a player get a moment like this – after an achilles tear knocked him out of the league – when he never really got the ones he deserved before.
WHEN TO GO CONSERVATIVE
Unlike the past two seasons, the HEAT have been a good fourth-quarter team this year, their plus-3.3 Net Rating in the period standing No. 8 in the league at the moment. So it’s not exactly a widespread issue when we say that there have been nights – twice against Utah, twice against Washington – when a big league shrunk to nearly nothing in the final minutes because the opposing side started to bomb away from three.
The thing about those stretches is Miami’s defense doesn’t really change or get worse when they happen, they happen almost specifically because Miami’s defense doesn’t change. When your defense is constructed to shut down driving lanes by bringing help off the perimeter, which leads you to surrender the highest three-point attempt rate in the lead, you’re always going to be susceptible to high-variance runs by the other side. And if you play like that with a big lead, you’re balancing on the edge of allowing a big run.
This is what Erik Spoelstra had to say after the Wizards closed to within six after trailing by 21 earlier in the fourth quarter this week.
“That’s a really good teaching point for our team. When you have a lead like that, our base coverage has to adjust. At that point, quick threes or overhelps that lead to threes, or turnovers going the other way can really change the momentum of a game pretty quickly. We are who we are, want to take away easy baskets, we want to protect the paint, but when you have a 15-point lead you do have to approach it a little differently. These are high-class things and teaching points that we can address from here.”
In other words, it’s OK to go conservative to protect a lead, to help less on two-pointers when it’s the home run shots that really threaten everything you’ve built. Just like how it’s OK for NFL teams to drop their defense back into prevent coverage, give up short five-yard gains on purpose just to prevent any deep passes. When the clock is on your side, accept the help.
So when Houston closed another big lead to five with 4:41 to play off a Jae’Sean Tate three, here’s how Spoelstra said he thought his team responded this time, when Miami didn’t allow another Rockets three the rest of the way.
“Defensively I thought we flattened them out a little bit. We defended the three-point line better. And that’s make or miss, they could make some of those shots but we were there, at least, it was different. It didn’t feel like those were wide-open threes in the last three minutes.”
End of the day it’s always a better thing to have a big lead than not, but the defense that got you there isn’t always the best defense to keep you there.
If we were to rank the improvements that Tyler Herro made this past offseason, with regard to how much attention they receive, it probably goes 1. Scoring 2. Playmaking 3. Strength Training (a heavy storyline earlier in the season). His improved handle deserves to be somewhere in there.
Tightening up a handle is not something that can easily be quantified. Sometimes it shows up in in a lower turnover percentage, but Herro’s role has expanded so much that the higher turnover totals that have come with it make sense. Usually, you just have to eyeball it and just about anyone who has watched Herro this season will probably notice a dribble combination or two that he simply wouldn’t have been able to pull off in his first two years. You notice it when he gets to shots like these…
…with the I-go-this-way-you-go-that-way crossovers. Herro has always had good footwork, and his improved first-step burst has as much to do with a live dribble working in tandem with those light feet as it does not skipping leg day. But where Herro has most often found his advantages are in hesitations, in the moments between dribbles when he’s trying to mask his intentions. It’s the hang dribble, the pause between either a drive or a pull-up shot, that can be Herro’s greatest weapon.
“It definitely helps a lot,” Herro said. “We spent almost the whole summer working on my handle. I feel like with my handle I can get to any spot on the floor at any time. It’s definitely tightened up and allowed me to be more efficient.”
At Herro’s size, you don’t reach a 29 percent usage rate without a confident and functional handle. We won’t be able to put clean-cut numbers to it, but his improvement with the ball in his hands has as much do with his success today and the success he’ll have tomorrow as anything else.
MORE THAN PERCENTAGES
Much has been made of the fluctuating three-point percentage of Duncan Robinson this season, which hit a low point on December 1 when it dropped to 32 percent on nine deep attempts per game. In 13 games since that date, he’s back to 40 percent on eight attempts – right in line with where he was last year. All shooters go through slumps, and it appears Robinson is on the other side of his.
What hasn’t been discussed as much is Robinson’s actual impact on the floor. While his on-off court numbers are predictably down given the shooting slump, the same for his handoffs, there’s one area that sticks out. When Miami gets Robinson in a closeout situation, meaning a catch-and-shoot opportunity where a defender has to run at Robinson, the HEAT are generating 1.25 points-per-possession – a number that includes Robinson’s shots, his drives and scores off any passes he makes. Of the 58 players with at least 200 closeouts this season, with Jae Crowder leading the league with 299, Robinson is No. 6 with his efficiency – just below Seth Curry and right above Patty Mills.
Robinson has always taken some of, if not the, toughest threes in the league. That comes with the territory when a team can rely on you to fly off screens and encourages you to shoot even when contested, but good things have still been happening when Miami gets him an added-value look. Even with the slump factored in, Robinson is shooting 41 percent on his wide-open threes.
-Entering Friday’s game in Houston, Haywood Highsmith had hit one single three-pointer in 40 minutes of NBA action. In his first 15 minutes playing for Miami, he went a perfect 3-of-3.
-In his 23 minutes on Friday, Kyle Guy tied his career-highs in points (17) and made threes (4), approached his career highs rebounds and assists and set a new career-high with three steals. As they say, stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.
-Miami finished December shooting 40.2 percent from three (No. 2 behind Chicago) on 38 attempts per game, for an average of 15.3 made threes per game. Their 229 total made threes was not only a franchise record, it blew the previous record for a single month (199) out of the water and is the 22nd most made threes in a single month in league history.
-Jimmy Butler’s 15 assists against Washington earlier this week was a career-high. Eight of those assists were to Duncan Robinson, which prompted a double-take from Butler (who seemed to be doing the math in his head when given that information) during post-game media. Butler’s 37 points in Houston were also a season-high.